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Incumbents lose, Democrats win with California redistricting proposal

at 06:38 PM ET, 06/10/2011

A new redistricting proposal in California would draw nearly half the state’s congressional incumbents into districts with one another and significantly expand Democrats’ ability to win seats in the Golden State in 2012 and beyond.

The state’s new Citizens Redistricting Commission voted this afternoon to release its first draft proposal for the new congressional map. The proposed map was expected to include huge changes and shake up the delegation by drawing numerous members into districts with each other — and it definitely did that — but in the runup to the release it wasn’t as clear which party would benefit from all those changes.

In the end, Democrats came out as the clear winners, and if the plan is enacted as proposed, Democrats would have a good chance to expand on their current 33-to-19 advantage in the state’s delegation by several seats.

Democratic redistricting expert Paul Mitchell projects that the proposed map includes 32 Democratic seats and five Democratic-leaning seats, with 13 Republican seats and three seats that lean Republican. If each side won the seats that were solidly or leaning in their favor, Democrats would see a net gain of three seats in the delegation in 2012.

Similarly, Republican consultant Matt Rexroad estimates the Democrats’ advantage at 3-5 seats, though other Republicans place the estimate slightly lower and insist they will also get new opportunities from the map.

If Democrats could net between three and five seats, it would make California one of their best states in the coming round of redistricting, along with Illinois.

Republican Reps. Elton Gallegly, David Dreier, Gary Miller and Brian Bilbray all get the short end of the stick in the new map and could have difficulty returning to Congress. The GOP would also have to defend Reps. Dan Lungren and Jeff Denham, who saw things get tougher in their respective districts.

On the Democratic side, Reps. Lois Capps, Loretta Sanchez and Jim Costa got more vulnerable, while Rep. Dennis Cardoza remains in potentially competitive district.

In the end, chaos is the order the day in the new map — forcing many incumbents to reevaluatw their political futures, with almost half of the state’s 52 current members of Congress drawn into districts with another incumbent (a 53rd seat is vacant).

The map will now be aired publicly and will have to be approved by Aug. 15, with nine of 14 commissioners required to support it. The commission is comprised of five Republicans, five Democrats and four who don’t belong to either party.

Here’s a look at some of the storylines the map has created (with a big thanks to Mitchell’s great breakdowns)

BIG PROBLEMS

* There really isn’t a good option for Gallegly. He’s drawn into Rep. Buck McKeon’s (R) district with no nearby and vacant Republican district to which to switch. If he runs, it’s likely in an open and Democratic-leaning Ventura County district to the south. But that’s a tough campaign, and Gallegly has been close to retirement in recent years. Many expect him to call it quits if he is dealt such a hand.

* Dreier now represents a strongly Democratic and heavily Hispanic district in Los Angeles County and will also be considered a retirement possibility. He could run in a vast, rural Inland Empire district to the east, but that’s new territory for the longtime incumbent, and Rep. Jerry Lewis (R) would have first claim on that district.

* Miller is drawn into Rep. Judy Chu’s (D) heavily Asian-American and Democratic district in the San Gabriel Valley. He could move east to run in an open San Bernardino district, but even that seat leans significantly in Democrats’ favor.

* Bilbray is now in Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R) district north of San Diego. Bilbray’s current district got pushed into San Diego and is a good bit more Democratic now. Look for Bilbray to run in that San Diego-area district but have a significantly tougher time winning.

* Rep. Howard Berman (D), who benefitted big time from having his brother in charge of redistricting in 2001 — he got a controversial district that Hispanics said diluted their vote share — isn’t so lucky under this proposed map. He’s in the same district as Rep. Brad Sherman (D), and the district is mostly Sherman territory. The only open alternatives for Berman are majority-Hispanic districts. This could be a clash of the titans.

WORTH WATCHING

* Capps’ “ribbon of shame” district, which currently runs 200 miles along the coast and is often cited as an example of extreme gerrymandering, becomes much more regular-shaped but also picks up many more Republicans. It would be pretty close to a swing district, which is good news for former lieutenant governor Abel Maldonado (R), who has filed to run against Capps.

* Rep. Jerry McNerney (D), as expected, got drawn into a district with Rep. Pete Stark (D). But McNerney can shift east to a vacant San Joaquin County seat that includes much of his curent territory and should be much easier for him to hold than his current swing district — provided he can win the primary.

* Reps. Laura Richardson (D) and Linda Sanchez (D) are in the same district, which is plurality Hispanic. That should benefit Sanchez, even though much of the territory in the new district is Richardson’s. Sanchez could run in a nearby majority-Hispanic district, but Richardson still may be vulnerable to another Hispanic candidate, given that her district would see its black population cut in half (Richardson is African-American).

* Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D) looked like she might get drawn in with another incumbent and get a much tougher district to run in — perhaps losing her Hispanic majority. In the end, she is set to keep her majority-Hispanic district, but Republicans see her district being much more winnable now.

* Three incumbents — Costa, Cardoza and Denham — would all be drawn into the same Merced district. But Costa would likely run instead in a lean-Democratic Kings County district that includes much of his current territory, and Denham could run in a lean-Republican Stanislaus County district to the east. Or Denham could challenge Costa in Kings County, which the GOP thinks is very winnable. Republicans think they have a chance to win two or even three of these — especially if Denham challenges Cardoza and wins — but only one of the three seats (Stanislaus County) is clearly in their favor.

MINOR INCONVENIENCES

* Rep. Jerry Lewis (R) was technically drawn into Rep. Joe Baca’s (D) heavily Democratic district, but Lewis can run in a Republican district that includes much of his currrent territory in San Bernadino County.

* Reps. Lucille Roybal Allard (D) and Xavier Becerra (D) are drawn into the same Los Angeles district, but there are a couple vacant and heavily Hispanic districts nearby for one of them to switch to.

* Rep. Tom McClintock (R) is in Rep. Doris Matsui’s (D) Sacramento district, but he is accustomed to moving for campaigns, and the conservative favorite should do well in a heavily Republican district in the Sacramento foothills to the east.

* Rep. Bob Filner (D) is drawn into Rep. Susan Davis’ (D) South San Diego district, and his current district along the Mexican border is now heavily Hispanic. But Filner has filed to run for mayor of San Diego. State Sen. Juan Vargas (D) is expected to seek his old House seat.

* Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R) and John Campbell (R) are in the same GOP-heavy Orange County district, but there is a vacant Republican district right next door for one of them.

WINNERS

* Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R) looked to be in a tough spot; instead, she appears to have a safer Riverside County district than she did before.

* Rep. Dan Lungren (R) could have gotten a much tougher Sacramento-area district that Democrats would have been favored to win; instead, it only got marginally more Democratic. He should still have a race on his hands in his rematch with Democrat Ami Bera, though.

* Chu gets a much more heavily Asian-American district and likely won’t have to worry about Hispanic primary opponents anymore.

 
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